Erickson Meets the Press
Dec. 12, 2000
OREGON STATE HEAD FOOTBALL COACH DENNIS ERICKSON
Media gathering of December 12, 2000
(On Notre Dame in general) 'We've studied them for about a week. We've been on the road recruiting and so forth, so we haven't spent as much time as we are going to spend on them. Both the offensive and defensive coordinator were in last week, so they've had a chance to sit down and look at them. What we're trying to do right now is develop our plan, and at the end of this week we'll start practicing against Notre Dame. Right now, what we're doing in practice is just going against ourselves, trying to get the timing back, giving our young redshirts and freshmen and sophomores some turns so they can improve. We'll start working on Notre Dame on Thursday and Friday, then our players will be off. We'll go to Phoenix on Dec. 21, and then we'll start on Dec. 22 on our final preparation for Notre Dame.
'Obviously, in the opportunity I've had to look at them on both sides of the football, they're a very physical football team. Offensively, they're going to run the football right at you and their offensive line is probably as good as we've seen. Their running backs - they have two of them (Julius Jones, Tony Fisher) who alternate in there. You know their quarterback situation (freshman Matt LoVecchio). They get after you, they're very well-coached and the last seven games they've played extremely well. Really, we're just at the beginning of preparing for them. When we have a press conference down at the bowl game, I can give you a little better idea what our plans are, hopefully.
'They have a great tradition. Like I said when we got the opportunity to play them, it's a great opportunity for Oregon State University and for our players to play a storied program like Notre Dame on Jan. 1, on Monday night. It's going to be big for our program. We have a chance to showcase ourselves as a football program, so we're excited about doing that.'
(What's the mood of Oregon State's team about playing Notre Dame?) 'They're pumped up to play because they're playing in a BCS bowl, number one. To have that opportunity to go 11-1, obviously there's a lot of happiness. They're pumped up, ready to go. And then to play Notre Dame, a program like that, even makes it more exciting for us. But more than anything, it's an opportunity to showcase our football program and for our players to showcase this football team. Not many people know about us - that was obvious in the press conference Friday. It's something we want - the opportunity to prove ourselves as a football team and as a program. It can really help us get to the next level, I believe, when we play a game like that in front of a lot of different people. People around the country, not just on the West Coast but on the East Coast and all over the country get a chance to see Oregon State play, and that's exciting to all of our players.'
(With almost three weeks until the game, is it hard to keep players motivated?) 'There's no problem keeping them motivated at all. Again, you've got to time things out. We're going to practice this week, then we're giving them five days off to go home and relax a little bit. Then we'll bring them back for final preparation, so they've got some time in between. If we went from now until we played them, we'd all be going nuts. I mean, that's a long time.'
(You've been in New Year's Day bowl games before while at Miami - how does that help?) 'Well, we didn't win the last two New Year's games I was in, so I don't know. I believe the experience of dealing with it and how you pace yourself in practice, because there is a long period of time from when the (regular) season is over with until you play. The hype is going to be unbelievable during the week of the bowl game, so hopefully I can help them a little bit with that.
'But the experience of being around them - and I've changed over the years as far as the preparation and the timing of preparation and the timing of emotion. Hopefully, from some of my experience, I can help us get prepared. Because there are going to be two emotional football teams, two programs that are on the rise and have done some good things at the end of the year.'
(How have you changed your bowl preparations over the years?) 'Nothing, really, just little things here and there. Nothing that would make headlines. Just little things here and there as far as when you practice, how long do you practice, what days do you practice - just little things I've learned over the seven or eight bowls I've been in, the six bowls at Miami and one at Washington State and the one last year.
'I think last year was a good learning experience for us because we finally had a winning season and - boom - we get to go to a bowl game. And we weren't ready to play for whatever reason, a combination of things, and we got embarrassed in my opinion. So, hopefully we can learn from that. Our players have to be ready to play, this is a big game.'
(What went wrong at last year's O'ahu Bowl?) 'We went over and it was a vacation instead of a game, basically.'
(Do you worry about losing momentum, because Oregon State had been playing better and better each week as the regular season ended?) 'They've won seven straight, too, so they have the same problem. Again, you lose some, and that's why we're practicing this week - to try to get back into the timing of everything. Then we'll take some time off, and get prepared for the game itself. I'll let you know if it works or not. Again, you do have momentum going and then you've got to gain it back. The good thing for both teams, or any team in a bowl game, is that you're going to get your guys healthy again and back to 100 percent. Conditioning is the key. You've got to make sure they stay in condition. As you can see, they're all in the weight room right now, lifting and running, and they've got to be able to do that even during the period of time they're home resting for four or five days.'
(Which game made you really realize how good this team would be?) 'I think after the Eastern Washington game (laughter), that was the real key to how I felt we were going to be. I'm not sure there was one defining point. Beating USC here was obviously a key because we hadn't done that in a lot of years. Coming back after being beaten at Washington ... maybe the biggest turning point was beating UCLA on the road, coming from behind and winning that game in the Rose Bowl gave us a lot of confidence going into the end of the season.'
(Why is Oregon State arriving at the bowl site so early?) 'Were you out with us today practicing in that cold weather? It's pretty cold. If we had an indoor facility - which we will next year - it might be a little different, but I'm not going to expose our football team to this weather for a long period of time. That's why we're going down on the 21st, so we can practice and get situated. I've done this before - when you get situated for a long period of time, I really think it helps you adjust to the game that you're going to play. Where if you get down there for one week, everything kind of hits you at one time, boom, you're trying to get ready and you've got all this attention and so forth. We'll probably be down there about five days earlier than normal, hopefully get situated, and when all this stuff hits you as far as the press is concerned and all that, we're adjusted to it a little bit. Hopefully, it will help us. That's one reason, the other is weather, to go out and practice in warm weather on grass. That's something we obviously can't do up here.'
(Why bring in wide receiver Chad Johnson when he had just one year of eligibility?) 'He's a talent. We knew that physically, what kind of talent he was. Probably head and shoulders above anybody in junior college football last year as far as being a receiver, talent-wise. And Imani Percoats was the same the year before. We just felt you could take a chance, particularly at that position because you can come in and run routes and those kinds of things. I don't know that you could do that at a lot of positions, but at wide receiver you can get away with it. He was talented, and the thing we really felt we needed was a speed receiver to combine with the other guys we had to make us good, and that's what he was. If he was a possession receiver, a guy who couldn't run real fast, we probably wouldn't have taken him. But we felt that was a needed piece of the puzzle to make us real good on offense. It was the deep ball, and he's given us that.'
(How badly do you want to win this game?) 'Really badly, and we all do. Anybody that's been associated with Oregon State, people in this state and alumni, this is huge. I don't know that we want to win any more than Notre Dame, but ...
(Is there a nugget of revenge for you in the idea of beating Notre Dame?) 'Just playing Notre Dame is the fun thing, beating them would even be more fun. We'll just have to see what happens.'
(Having reached this level, is it a matter of wanting to not just get there, but to win?) 'Sure. That's what it's all about. Getting there is a key, then if you can win that football game, it even exposes your program more. That's what it's all about. For us to win 11 games would be incredible. For us to continue to give exposure to this program to build on in the future, to do the things that we've talked about as far as facilities and making this program competitive in the country year-in and year-out, this is a big game as far as that's concerned.'
(With everything you've accomplished in your career, how satisfying is what you've done at Oregon State, and to have done it so quickly?) 'I didn't really believe we'd do it quite this quickly, I thought it might take a little longer than this. But as I look back on it, the reason this is so special is just because this is a program that had been down so many years, that had been beat-up on, made jokes of, whatever you can talk about, for 30 years - been embarrassed. And, all of a sudden for us to take this thing to where we are right now, it doesn't get any better. It just doesn't. Other than to try to maintain it, which at most places I've been is harder than getting there. But it's special just because of that.'
(Playing Notre Dame, in prime time - has this worked out better than being in the Rose Bowl?) 'Your goal every year, in the Pac-10, is to go to the Rose Bowl. That's the goal. This is a pretty good second choice for us, as far as that goes. I wouldn't be telling the truth if I didn't say the Rose Bowl wasn't the number one thing, because it is for anybody in the Pac-10 or the Big Ten unless you're in the national championship game. But for us, to get to this bowl - the Fiesta Bowl is a tremendous bowl, I've been there before - and to play Notre Dame, you can't ask for more than that.'
(Oregon doesn't have a lot of celebrities, and right now you're the Man of the Hour - how does that feel?) 'You're only as good as the next time you play, I learned that a long time ago. It's a fast trip from the penthouse to the outhouse back to the penthouse and back to the outhouse again. I think I've been there a lot of different times. But it feels good to accomplish what we've accomplished. I don't know about being a celebrity, but I'm excited for the program and for Oregon State University and the football team and all the Beaver fans out there.'
(Does it work in your favor that Notre Dame may not know a lot about you - not just the OSU football team, but OSU in general?) 'I don't know that it works in our favor, but they obviously don't know a lot about us. I'm sure they're studying us now, football-wise. A football game is a football game. Their fans may not know us, but I know their team will because they'll be very well-prepared for the game. When they watch us, I'm sure they'll gain respect for us as a football team. The Notre Dame fans and alumni and subway alumni and those Notre Dame people who are out there - they don't know who Oregon State is and they probably won't know who Oregon State is. We haven't done much over the years.'
(On Oregon State's offensive line) 'That's the offensive line, that happens every place that you are. It's funny - I saw a deal on ABC or ESPN or something about the Denver Broncos offensive line. The Denver Broncos' offensive line has been the key to their success ever since Mike Shanahan has been there, but nobody's ever heard of them. They've had three different (successful) rushers ... but that's the nature of that position. Our offensive line has played really, really well. You don't run the football like we've run the football with those different backs without being very good in the offensive line. Gregg Smith has done a great job coaching them, and those kids have played very, very well together and they've been a real key to our success, without a doubt.'
(Can you talk about your father, Robert 'Pink' Erickson and his influence on your career?) 'When you're about 4 years old and you're in locker rooms ... that's what it was for me. He was a head high school coach when I grew up, and I was around it all the time, traveling on busses, watching games all my life. That's how I was raised. That influence is why I'm in this business. But his influence as a person, and how to treat people and players is probably the biggest impact he's had. I'm just happy he gets to see this happen, because he's been through a lot of different things - a lot of good things, but he also had to live in Seattle for four years when I was coaching there, and that wasn't a fun thing for him or for any of my family, the way we were treated. But now, for him to see this happening just makes it a heck of a lot better.'
(Will it help Oregon State that Notre Dame is the glamour team in the matchup and might attract more of the pregame attention?) 'I don't know how much difference it will make. I do know that when we get down there, we have a plan and our players know what they've got to get done as far as practicing. There are social things that are going to happen at bowls, that's just a part of it, and that's why we're going down there early, so we can get those out of the way in the first days. We'll just see what happens. I don't even know when Notre Dame is going down there (Dec. 26). But it might make a difference, I don't know. The bottom line is, we're going to line up and play football on Jan. 1.'
(But having Joe Montana show up at a Notre Dame practice would cause more of a stir than Larry Vladic showing up at an Oregon State practice.) 'The guy I'd like to meet is Regis Philbin, myself (laughter). Of all the Notre Dame people, he's become the most famous right now, because he could buy the Four Horsemen.'
(Are there any Notre Dame players that jump out at you at first glance?) 'Their quarterback, Matt LoVecchio, is a guy who has come in and done some outstanding things for them. We really haven't studied them individually more than the plan right now, we'll get into that more the next three or four days. We just got off the road (recruiting), we haven't had a lot of time studying individuals other than what their scheme is. This afternoon, we're going to spend a lot of time together as an offensive and defensive staff talking about all those things and our plan because we'll start practicing on them a little bit Thursday.'
(Talk about your Roseburg players - safety Jake Cookus, center Chris Gibson, tight end Mark Walsh - and what they've meant to your team, and about them being coached by Thurman Bell, who was on OSU's 1964-65 Rose Bowl team.) 'What can you say about Jake? And Chris Gibson has been a stalwart of our offensive line at center. One thing you can say about all the kids from Roseburg who have been here is, they're very well-coached and football means a heck of a lot to them. That means a heck of a lot in a program.'
(What's it been like for you to come in contact with all the Oregon State fans who suffered through almost three decades of losing football?) 'It's great to see all the happiness and smiles that have happened the last two years, and particularly this year. It's been a thrill for me to see that happen. It's like anything in life - when you get beat up for a long time and now all of a sudden good things happen to you, you enjoy it. That's what's happened to our fans, and I've enjoyed seeing that.'
(While a lot of coaching jobs were open this fall, you maintained that it was likely you would stay at Oregon State and wanted to stay. Was there any one thing that led you to stay at OSU?) 'There were a couple things. Number one, the players. I've been in this situation before and I've mentioned this before, that as you go through your career sometimes you move and maybe the timing isn't right, but that's how it is sometimes. I regret, at times, leaving Wyoming after one year, I regret, at times, leaving Washington State after two years as you move up the ladder in this business. But I've been there and done all that. When the openings occurred and I visited with some people about different jobs, the bottom line was that I really felt we had something special going here, that we'd taken this thing from where it wasn't very good to where we're very competitive. The players have busted their rear ends to get this done, and I just felt I owed it to them and to these people at Oregon State that I stay here and continue to build this thing. That's what it was all about.'
(How important have OSU President Paul Risser and Athletic Director Mitch Barnhart been?) 'Paul Risser is the key to all of it. The president of the university is very supportive of what's happening here in the athletic department and in football, with the new facilities that are being built - the indoor facility and some of the things we're going to do with the stadium as time goes on, hopefully the new basketball facility and all those things. He's made those commitments, as did Mitch, and that makes a huge difference in the direction that the university is going. If it's not for that commitment, then you have to look where you can get it. I believe this program can get better and better and more consistent all the time.'
(Was there a point in the last two seasons when you realized you'd made the right choice by coming to Oregon State?) 'It's hard to pinpoint it. When I saw the excitement on our players' faces when they announced we'd be in the Fiesta Bowl, and in the fans' faces, that was what it was all about. The turning point, or when I really felt this was going in the right direction, was last year when we beat Cal and Arizona here - to see all that excitement, I knew I was in the right place trying to do the right thing.'
(How quickly would you like to get on to expanding Reser Stadium?) 'Tomorrow. But obviously, there are some other things that need to be done here. Believe me, I'm for the whole university and the whole athletic department. You've got to take it a step at a time. We need the annex (to Gill Coliseum), or whatever we're going to do for our basketball situation. We need that, it's very important for our basketball program, Ritchie (McKay, men's basketball coach) is going to do a great job and this is going to be an outstanding basketball school, also. That's the next step as we go, and I'm very supportive of that. When that gets settled, we can move into the stadium expansion and the things we need to do in the stadium. But I don't believe that's a long ways away.'
(Talk about senior receivers Chad Johnson, T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Robert Prescott and tight end Marty Maurer.) 'They've improved a lot, is probably the biggest thing. Chad was new, but you look at the guys coming back, and the biggest thing they've done is caught the ball. Last year, we were very inconsistent catching the football. You look at Robert Prescott and T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Marty Maurer at tight end, and those guys are catching the football where last year we were dropping a lot of balls for whatever reason. We're not dropping balls, so that's probably been the big difference in our productivity on offense.'
(Have this season opened some doors in recruiting?) 'We're pretty self-realistic. I mean, don't forget where you came from, don't forget the players who made this program. Regardless of where you are, I really believe that the so-called 'big-time' programs make a lot of recruiting mistakes. You have to evaluate, you can't go off the lists. But what this season has done is open up a lot of avenues as far as people who want to come here. You have a lot of people who want to come here who, two or three years ago, might not have had any interest in Oregon State. It's unbelievable how that's opened up. IT wasn't just his year, it started a year ago, and it's continuing to open up more and more.
'The thing you've got to do as a coaching staff, regardless of where you are, is evaluate who fits in your system, evaluate can they or can they not play in your system, and then make the call on whether you're going to scholarship them or offer them. Because there isn't much difference between a guy who goes one place, a so-called big program, or comes here. There really isn't. And that's why there's parity in football, and that's why there will always be parity in football. But you'd better make the right choice as far as how he fits into your program - I'm talking athletically, what you do offensively and defensively, and attitude. Recruiting evaluation is such a key. You've just got to make sure you do it the right way. And we're all going to miss, we're all going to make mistakes, but just don't make very many because when you have 85 scholarships and you take 17 or 18 or 20, depending on the year, and you make four or five mistakes, you've got problems down the road. You don't have any depth.'
(Can it be a mistake, when you reach a higher level, to recruit players because they're higher on the list of blue-chippers?) 'We don't do that, we've never done that. Our evaluations of football players might be totally different than USC, for example. Our evaluation of a guy on a blue-chip list might be totally different than the guy who's evaluating them on a blue-chip list. You go off those lists, and you can make all kind of mistakes. We're not changing, we've just got more doors open so we've got the opportunity to evaluate more players right now than we used to.'
(Has running back Ken Simonton's soreness healed?) 'Ken has had some rest, so he's 100 percent now. He's practiced well, and he's got four or five more days off, so he'll be ready to go.'
(What's the biggest challenge for Oregon State to focus on over the next three weeks?) 'We've got to focus on being physically ready, but we've also got to focus on going to that bowl game and making sure we have a good time - because it is a reward for the season. But we've got to balance that with getting ourselves ready to play one of the biggest, or maybe the biggest, game in Oregon State history. That's what we've got to do.'